Well, Richard Hendricks has finally completed his bad-breaking. I mean, we know this because his character has now taken the time to explicitly say it to us in more than just one episode this season. The troubling thing, though? I hadn't noticed until Richard pointed it out that he's essentially transformed in a pretty big way from the character that he was in season one. Maybe I'm outing my inattentiveness as a viewer, but I think there might be a bigger problem at work here: Richard changed as a character, but the outcome of his actions didn't change around him at all. Sure, we've seen the Pied Piper founder go from relatively timid and spineless to ready to break the rules at a moments notice (and deceive his close friends in the process)...but the fact that in spite of this transformation, every season of Silicon Valley still features the Pied Piper team encountering a series of lucky breaks that then reveal themselves to be a series of shitty setbacks by season's end has by now made the show something of an exercise in frustration.
About halfway through this current fourth season it became kind of clear where things were headed, and that was the same basic place that things headed in the second half of just about every other season. After watching a series of potentially game-changing strokes of good luck curdle into massive clusterfucks, the Pied Piper team is pretty much desperate to keep their decentralized storage network online, especially after the big disaster at HooliCon. Frankly, the maneuvering put in place to ensure that their network stays up — despite their failed attempt to set up their servers on campus at Stanford — don't really matter, because they're a) not all that funny or inspired, and b) undone by the end of the episode, anyway. Suffice it to say that everything looks like it's going to work out...right up until Dan Melcher finds out that Richard Hendix randomly (and implausibly) slept with his wife a few episodes back, ending things in fisticuffs.
Instead of losing everything, though, Richard is able to prove that his technology works, winds up at the center of a bidding war between companies itching to fund him (he goes with Breem-Hall, because of course he does), and having the ability to tell a newly-returned Gavin Belson to pound sand after receiving another buyout offer. Which means that, once again, Silicon Valley ends a season in the same place as it always does: having weathered a series of potentially career-ending mishaps, the Pied Piper team is shaken but still together, and has just been offered a last-minute bailout that will let them stay in the game just a little bit longer. It's hard to stay excited with a show that just staunchly refuses to do anything different, especially when it sets itself up to change things in so many potentially exciting ways.
How interesting would it have been, had the Pied Piper/Gavin Belson team-up lasted longer than just a couple of episodes (and had it not been narratively undone by the end of the season)? When I realized that Belson and Hendricks would wind up working together out of necessity, I thought it was one of the most brilliant moves the show had pulled in a while...but Gavin just took off for Tibet on a whim not long after, and what was meant to play as a joke just wound up being frustrating. Even Steven Tobolowsky's Jack Barker hasn't really been enough to shake things up, as he's just proven to be a replacement Gavin Belson, and the show — instead of committing to playing with new partnerships and character dynamics — keeps him orbiting around Barker and Hooli instead of sending him off to do something more interesting and push the proceedings in new directions.
Silicon Valley is still a show that's bolstered by its comedic performances, though, and even as it becomes apparent that they've really run out of things to do with TJ Miller's Erlich Bachman, Zach Woods has positively walked away with the entire season. His performance as Jared has subtly shifted from an all-purpose joke machine to a deeply sensitive and sometimes even wounded human being...which makes the frequency and insanity of his gags just that much more potent. Similarly, Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr have seriously shone this season as Dinesh and Gilfoyle, respectively. Each has been given the chance to flesh out his character a bit, and has gotten to leave the office setting and do something new and different for a change.
Still, Silicon Valley is crucially missing something that brings with it an actual, noticeable degree of freshness, and one can't help but notice the lack of female perspectives on the show this year. Monica and Laurie were largely sidelined this season, and why has it taken this long to introduce a new female main character? Maybe one that will last more than a single season? The show has feinted at taking a serious look at what women go through in the tech industry here and there (even as recently as this season), but consistently fails to be a satirical show taking aim at what's arguably one of the industry's biggest and most problematic failings. Sure, Silicon Valley has the unchecked ego and misplaced sense of self-importance part of the tech industry down pat...so why not add something new to the mix by widening its satirical scope as well? By failing to do so, the show misses both a rich narrative vein, and the chance to be on the right side of a very important conversation. "Server Error" winds up being a so-so episode at the end of a frustrating season of a show I really like. Silicon Valley has gotten caught in its own feedback loop, and suffers from a desperate need to shake things up. Since a fifth season is inevitable, and a cast shakeup has already been announced, maybe things will play out a bit differently. At this point, my optimism is cautious.
Oh, and also...
• I can't tell if this episode actually seemed super light on jokes or if I was just uncomfortable with how horrible Richard was being the entire time.
• I was hoping Gilfoyle would be wearing the cat-eye contacts for the rest of the show, and god dammit, he was.
• The whole Melcher subplot is a little lazy, isn't it?